Clearwater, Florida

The City of Clearwater, population 110,169 (2010), is one of the largest of the twenty-five municipalities located in Pinellas County, a peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay on Florida’s west coast. In the early 1980s, the City adopted a transfer of development rights ordinance designed to preserve open space and environmentally sensitive lands.

In 1993, the Pinellas Planning Council required all municipalities within the County to follow County wide standards including those related to TDR. One of these rules stated that transfers from sending sites were limited to one TDR per acre. This rule reduced sending owner motivation to sell their development rights.

In 1999, Clearwater adopted a new Community Development Code that uses TDR to implement redevelopment plans as well as protect critical resources. While the program can be used to preserve environmentally significant lands and accomplish downtown objectives, the program has primarily been used to transfer density between properties on Clearwater Beach as a means of providing development flexibility while maintaining an overall limit on development. This ordinance was subsequently amended it in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005 and 2009. The Process section below summarizes the ordinance as it existing in November 2011.


In Section 4-1401 of its Community Development Code, Clearwater states that the TDR ordinance aims to implement the goals of redevelopment plans and special area plans as well as protect designated environmental, open space, archeological, historical or architecturally significant sites. Transfers occur at a one-to-one ratio: Section 4-1403D states that the sending and receiving sites “…shall not exceed what is otherwise allowed under the future land use plan for the total area under consideration.”

Section 4-1403E controls the relationship of sending and receiving sites.

  1. Rights from environmental, open space, archeological, historical or archeologically significant sites on the mainland can be transferred to any parcel of land on the mainland.
  2. Similarly, rights from environmental, open space, archeological, historical or archeologically significant sites on the barrier islands can be transferred to any parcel of land on the barrier islands.
  3. Rights from properties within a Community Development District, Central Business District or other designated redevelopment area can be transferred only to receiving sites in that same district or area.
  4. No transfers can be made from land outside the coastal storm area into the coastal storm area.

Transferable development rights can be converted from one use to another based on the trip generation rates as published in the most recent edition of the Institute of Transportation Engineers Trip Generation Manual.

When transferring density from designated environmental, open space, archeological, historical or architecturally significant sites, the density/intensity bonus cannot exceed 20 percent of the receiving site’s baseline development potential. The bonus density/intensity allowed on receiving sites within areas designated Central Business District (CBD), Community Redevelopment District (CRD) or areas governed by redevelopment or special area plans is limited by the maximum density/intensity allowed by the applicable plans and regulations for those districts and areas. If these plans do not indicate maximum density/intensity, baseline cannot be exceeded by more than 20 percent. However, no maximum density limitations apply for overnight accommodations on Clearwater Beach.

Transfers can only be approved if they meet five criteria. For example, the bonus development must consist of uses that are compatible with adjacent uses. The bonus development cannot reduce the fair market value of abutting properties and in fact should upgrade the neighborhood.

Building height maximums can be exceeded in order to accommodate transferred density/intensity but with various limitations. For example, buildings over 100 feet high cannot be located within 100 feet of any other building taller than 100 feet. No more than two buildings taller than 100 feet can be located within 500 feet of a building taller than 100 feet. View corridors must be incorporated into the design of the receiving site parcel. And any receiving site project exceeding baseline height limits must be compatible with its surrounding uses.

Program Status

The original TDR program, adopted in the early 1980s, was designed to preserve open space and environmentally sensitive land. However, most land in Clearwater is not environmentally sensitive and is capable of accommodating development. Consequently, sending site owners were not adequately motivated to sell their development rights. Furthermore, the standards imposed by the Pinellas Planning Council in 1993 further reduced sending site owner motivation by limiting transfer from sending sites to a maximum of one TDR per acre. As a result, the original TDR provisions were rarely used.

However, 42 transactions occurred between 1999, when the new program was adopted, and 2006, when Gina Clayton, Long Range Planning Manager, provided a log of the 130 units transferred during that six-year period. One of these transactions occurred in the downtown and the rest occurred at Clearwater Beach. This level of activity suggests that the TDR program is succeeding at one of its goals: promoting the redevelopment of Clearwater Beach.